The atmosphere is nervous; fingers are napping on the desk. We are in an office building in southern Tel Aviv. Here, almost every evening, one can learn Nordic languages organized by the Nordic Language Center. We visited a bunch of brave Israelis who had taken up the challenge to learn Finnish, our odd little language.
"Do you know what this is? This is to test how Finnish you are." One wrinkles her nose, another exclaimes: "I know what that is! It's salmiakki!" The black, salty liquorice – a favourite candy of many Finns – goes around among the students. The apparent salmiakki fan takes the rest of the package to home.
All passed the tasting test. Now we are curious, why on earth these five Israelis have chosen to study Finnish?
"I and my wife were looking for a place that suits better our temper. A bit more peaceful and calmer place. Since Alaska is too far away, we chose Finland. We travelled there for three weeks to see if we like it. Then we travelled there for two weeks during the winter to see if we still like it", Israeli Dan tells. Now the couple studies the language while they are looking for job opportunities and dreaming about the future moving to Finland.
Many students have Finnish partners, which motivates them to learn the language.
This is the seventh session, and the teacher tells tonight's topic would include colours. And as we ask what comes to the students' minds about Finland, first answer happened to be: "Green. You can't explain that amount of green around you. It just doesn't exist in Israel."
"Peacefulness. Karelian rice pasties. Ice desert. Lakes", the students list.
Outside the classroom, Yoni Doron, the organizer of the Nordic Language Center, asks what we think. "They were really nervous beforehand that you would test their language skills", he tells us.
Maybe we should have put a bit more pressure than just salmiakki tasting and stories about dipping yourself into a frozen lake. However, we wish the students will continue their big but not impossible challenge to learn Finnish!